I’ve always had a few videos of it around various places I’ve lived, but they all remained unwrapped. I am not certain why this lack of desire to look at it lasted so long. It represents an achievement I am proud of. It wasn’t the happiest time of my life, personally, and the making of the movie was very hard on my spirit. Perhaps that’s the reason. I was certain when I saw it I would remember what drama was going on just out of the camera’s range on every shot, and I still remembered most of them without having to see the actual movie to remind me. When I finally came to look at the movie as the first step in assembling this book, I was actually quite impressed. Not a bad job for a young man of thirty-three or so, an ambitious young man to be sure, who, at twenty-five, had bet the group in the Columbia Pictures training program, of which he had been one, that he would produce his first feature film by the age of thirty.
Preparing a “final” version of any screenplay is a myth. There is no final version. After the writer finishes, the director fiddles and actors sneak in stuff during dubbing and the editor slices out this and that and music or sound effects drown out that and this and then a production script is prepared (or was in the days of this film) by a bunch of secretary types working over machines that allow them to count footage and convert it into seconds and reels and indicate exactly what mouths are saying and sounds are heard. This is used for making foreign versions. It is a very unromantic and unatmospheric and undramatic and forbidding thing, the final production script. It bears little resemblance to the romance and mystery that created the “project” in the first place and excited not only the writer and director and actors to participate, but the money people to put up the financing.
And printing up my final draft leaves questions and gaps to anyone who sees the movie and wants to read the screenplay. What happened to that? In the movie, so and so says such and such: you don’t have such and such. It’s almost a cheat to print up a screenplay and call it the script of the film.
What I have tried to do here is something I haven’t seen done before. I took my final draft, and I took the production script, and I took my earlier drafts, and I took the novel itself, and I tried to put together a faithful version of what is on the screen, pausing here and there to indicate what should have been here and what was taken away from there and what or who had changed this or that and displeased the screenwriter, whose back was momentarily turned. I try to explain reasons for some of the choices and try to indicate some instances of how a movie is created, often inadvertently, by many people and is the sum of many accidents and intentions, not all of them necessarily out of fidelity to the original great novel that is this particular movie’s source. I try to show how personalities and relationships off-camera affect what is being shot. And of course the complicated relationship between the director and the screenwriter and the producer, which since the beginning of cinema has been never less than terribly fraught. I must say that I was impressed how, in one way or another, perhaps because I was producer as well as screenwriter, what is on the screen represents what my final draft represents and indeed what the seven or eight drafts preceding it represented.
I am grateful to my old friend Sandy Lieberson, who has produced many films and run many film companies and now teaches film students all over the world how to prepare their own ideas for presentation, for the notion of presenting my adaptation in this fashion. He says that students want to know why and how along the way.
In adapting an indisputably great novel, a great book, one faces additional problems and overwhelming responsibilities to its readers, to its author, to the work itself. One cannot take liberties, or rather one cannot take just any old liberty. One of the several directors who was connected with Women in Love along its long journey to the screen wanted outrageous changes, including allowing Gerald Crich to live at the end. It is an indication of how powerful his word was over mine to the financier’s ears and how desperate I was by this time to get the film made that I even considered this suggestion, telling myself I don’t know what about how I would deal with this fight later.
A screenplay usually goes through many drafts, many of them unnecessary, most of them written because of some reason other than getting the movie actually made. A studio can’t make up its mind so asks for another draft (when they can’t even verbalize what’s wrong with the present one); a new director shows an interest but he or she wants “a few changes.” A star might consider playing so and so if the part were bigger, or funnier, or more sympathetic, or or or. Another writer is called in, then another; then the original writer is called back to clean up the mess. None of this, you realize, has anything to do with “writing,” with “art,” though these words are freely bandied about.
Women in Love suffered some of these stalling tactics. But fortunately the producer never had to fire the screenwriter or deal with another screenwriter. It has been my experience from years of being both a story editor and a screenwriter that most often the first draft’s initial impulses, when one looks back at them, were the most correct (and that all further drafts reflect a decline in energy and imagination) and that if more films were made from the first writer’s first draft, I’ll bet there would have been a lot more better movies. Because I started out as the producer, and never lost control of the rights to the “property,” I was able to wield a bit more control over things than your usual writer-for-hire. Directors don’t usually like to work for writer-producers; indeed, directors today usually form their own companies and place their own producers in charge. This does not result in better movies. It results in directors being allowed to get away with things that a good creative sounding board who can say no and make it stick can provide to a director who has too many things to be in charge of anyway and is often unable to see all of them very clearly as it is.
If the relationship between the director and the writer is the most important one in the making of a film, it is a well-kept secret from the public and the critics. The director winds up with all the attention, and the writer is usually treated badly from beginning to end by everyone from the director to the producer to the financing entity to the press. The only one anyone pays any attention to or gives any credit to is the director. Period. If the movie’s any good, he or she is applauded. If it isn’t, the script is usually blamed. The process in the theater is just the reverse: the writer is king, and the director is there to serve the writer. Perhaps that is why I came to write fewer screenplays and began to write plays. I began to feel dirty writing movies, writing for this cast of characters for whom I was only a means to an end.
There were five directors considered for Women in Love. The first was Silvio Narizzano, who brought the book to me. The second was Jack Clayton, who, famous for taking a long time to make up his mind, did truly that, eventually turning it down. Next was Peter Brook, who was in Paris during this time of student revolt, so we could not get a script to him. The fourth was Stanley Kubrick, and I cannot recall what happened with him. We were acquainted well enough that he would have read the script had I asked him to, but I am not certain it came to that. The final director was Ken Russell.
I had met Ken at about the same time I had met Silvio, in the early 1960s, shortly after arriving in London from New York to take up my job as a story editor for the Columbia Pictures production outpost there. I was only about twenty-six years old, and it was a wonderful job, a wonderful time, a wonderful opportunity for an ambitious kid with a lot of energy and curiosity and nerve. Not only was it my job to find good stories and writers for our movies, but I had been encouraged to keep an eye out for possible new directors. One of my earliest ideas was to develop a group of extremely low budget films by young British television directors and writers, and both Silvio and Ken were doing exceptional work in television drama. Silvio had received much praise for adaptations of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Ken was doing extraordinary docudramabiographical pieces for BBC-TV’s Monitor program. I had brought each of them into my office. Ken and I discussed doing a film about the world of fashion; he had been a fashion photographer, and that world fascinated me. We never got anywhere, but our meetings were pleasant. Silvio and I hit it off immediately. Though Canadian, he had a New York sense of humor and energy and spunk, an unusual mix in London. A young television writer, Julian Bond, was commissioned to write an original screenplay idea of his called Another Day Tomorrow. It was budgeted at some ridiculously low amount. The film was not made. First there were a few of those delaying tactics I describe above, mainly by my boss, who could not make up his mind; low-budget movies often take longer to get a green light than big-budget ones, and he had too many of these on his mind. Then Silvio got an offer to direct something else. In preparation for making Another Day Tomorrow, Columbia had given him a multipicture contract. While waiting, he had already made one movie, Die! Die! My Darling! with Tallulah Bankhead, which I had put together for the Hammer Films horror movie folks, who released through Columbia. Then, with still no go-ahead forthcoming for our little film, he directed Georgy Girl, which became a huge international success. After that, there was no way he was going to come back and do our modest movie. He was hot, as they say, and big offers were coming in, and he intended to capitalize on them. Who could blame him?
We stayed friends, and I was with him when he left his wife (a television story editor and also my friend) to live with a young man. I left London to return to New York to be assistant to the president of United Artists, David Picker, a job I did not like, nor did I enjoy being back in New York. I somehow got David to send me back to London as associate producer on a film called Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (which would be a huge hit there, with music by Stevie Winwood and Spencer Davis). I was back in London in six months and was with Silvio and his new young lover when Silvio left to direct a western in Utah with Terence Stamp called Blue.
The one movie Silvio wanted to make more than anything was Women in Love. (Looking back, I can certainly see that it reflects many of the problems he was having in his own life.) He had told this to Sam Jaffe, an American producer living in London (and formerly one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood), and Sam had indicated he would produce it, even though he was nervous about the book’s bold sexual content. “I’m an old man, and I don’t know if I have it in me to fight these battles,” he said to me somewhere along the line. Like most of the Americans in London in the sixties working in movies–we had quite a colony–Sam and I were friends. His son-in-law, John Kohn, was a young Columbia producer, for whom I’d found The Collector, which became a film the great William Wyler directed for us.
I’d never read Women in Love. Knowing of my impatience to do something on my own, Silvio suggested I read it while he was away and if I liked it to take it over from Sam (Sam had no objection), and he would agree to my producing it. He said this was his thank-you for putting him on the path of Georgy Girl. Getting a commitment from a hot director was a generous gift indeed. Needless to say, I hastened to read the novel.
I read it and I didn’t understand it, and then I fell in love with a man named Giorgio who lived in Milan whom I was trying to get to move to London. He came to London, hated it, and gave me the flu before he went home, and I was stuck in bed with nothing to read. I reread Women in Love and realized what a great work of art I was holding in my hands. Silvio in Utah was also having love problems, but far more dire. The young man had not wanted to leave England and join him in America. Silvio insisted. He was lonely. The young man finally relented. One day while driving to visit Silvio on the set, the young man was killed in an automobile accident. Silvio, already behind schedule on his first big-budget film, was overcome by guilt. The movie spiraled out of control, costwise. It was that year’s Heaven’s Gate, and Silvio was a hot director no more. The film companies I had already dangled Women in Love in front of were no longer interested.
I had commissioned a screenplay from a well-known British writer of that era, David Mercer, who was from Yorkshire and the coal mines area of England, akin to D. H. Lawrence. I’d used every last penny I had to option the book and pay Mercer’s first draft fee. He’d turned in a terrible script. It was more a Marxist tract (most of the young good liberal writers were passionate Marxists, something this unpolitical American fellow knew next to nothing about), with so little connection to the novel that even his agent, the great Peggy Ramsay, who was also my friend, tried to get me to take Mercer’s payment back. ‘david has been shameful and shameless,” she said, which was generous of her but did not get me a usable screenplay. It was Silvio who suggested I try to write it myself, just before his own life fell apart. I had no choice but to try.
I had done rewriting on Mulberry Bush, but I had never done a whole screenplay before. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and a great deal of my psychoanalysis (another reason I wanted to get back to London: I missed my shrink) was spent trying to figure out why I was so afraid of trying to be one. Well, there is nothing like having your back against the wall in a situation like mine to make you try. No script, no movie. No movie, no job. No job, no future; I’d have to go back to New York. I sat down and got to work on the screenplay for Women in Love. The first thing I did was to read every critical assessment of the novel and of Lawrence I could find. (I had been an English major at Yale.) This served a great double purpose. It made me understand a very difficult novel better, and it made me realize, even more, what a great, great gift and opportunity I now had. Next I got in my car and headed north. I wanted to see where this man had lived and had written about. I stayed in small inns and cheap hotels and talked to people in pubs and drove for hours in Sherwood Forest and the Derbyshire Dales and became familiar with all the tiny towns that dot the unbelievably beautiful landscape of the Midlands part of England, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire. (When Ken came on, I was able to show him where much of the novel had actually happened.) Then I came home and started my screenplay.
Until Silvio became persona non grata at every single studio, I would send him what I was writing, and his reactions were terrific. When I next saw David Picker on one of his trips to London (I’d hoped to make my deal with UA because they gave producers 50 percent of the profits, more than any other studio), he told me he still was interested but he would no longer take Silvio. The realities of the movie business are very cruel. Georgy Girl‘s success was forgotten; all that counted now was that Blue was a disaster and Silvio was unemployable. He came back and we sat down and he told me that I was writing a fine script, that I had done all the work on getting the film made, and that I must not stop trying to get the film made, and he knew this could no longer happen with him. He named a price for me to buy him out, and I agreed. It was a painful and sad meeting and my first personal experience of these harsh film world realities. (But we stayed friends.) Before Picker left London, I took David Mercer’s script and fifty pages of mine and gave them to him without telling him which was which. “One of these is by a famous British writer and the other one is by an unknown writer I’ve found.” He called me up a few days later. “The famous writer is David Mercer and his script is terrible and you’re the unknown writer and yours is terrific and let’s make a deal and start looking for another director.” He even gave me some money to live on while I finished writing the script.
Ken Russell, who proved to be a good choice, really got the job because of a famous producer of that time, Harry Saltzman (he coproduced the first James Bond films, among many others), who had a deal with UA and who also had Ken Russell under contract, with nothing for him to do at the moment. Ken had made Billion Dollar Brain for him and it was a flop, which coming after two previous film failures meant that he badly needed a success or he would never do anything but television. One reason he was more or less “controllable” –he had a bad temper and Paddy Chayefsky, for whom Ken would direct Altered States, always maintained that Ken gave him the heart attack that almost killed him (one would shortly come along and finish the job)–was that he knew if he struck out on Women in Love, that was it.
He was a strange man. We did not like each other, and he did not like Martin Rosen, who was my co-producer. I don’t think he liked Americans in general, certainly not American film people. He certainly did not like an American who was not only his producer but the author of the screenplay he would have preferred writing himself. Much of my energy (I’ll indicate several examples as we go along) was spent trying to keep him from slipping in his rewrites behind my back. We weren’t shooting very long before I realized it was essential to me and my script and the movie that I be on the set every single moment. I have always been someone who would accept good ideas to make anything I’m involved in better, if I believed they were better. But Ken’s ideas were not better. They were awful and usually off-the-wall. Anyone who has seen some of his later movies and TV work, filled with naked nuns on altars and other harsh images, will know what I mean. The more eccentric and extreme the actor and the image, the more florid would become his style. I had to concentrate on getting the most out of the young Ken Russell who had impressed me originally: the man with one of the best visual eyes in Britain, who could shoot that country and its landscape and its architecture and place figures in these images so that all looked gorgeous, and related to these characters, to the story they were a part of, and to D. H. Lawrence. Women in Love was to be his best work.
Ken was not a verbal man. He didn’t talk much, and the dialogue he would write and try to sneak in had no feel for how people talk. Indeed, he wasn’t good at conveying what he wanted to anyone, cast or crew. Actors like Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed, who did what they wanted to anyway (Oliver had little range to do much else), flourished, and neither was ever as good in anything as each was in Women in Love. But actors who liked to discuss things, like Alan Bates, and poor Jennie Linden, who had been cast only days before shooting began and who’d had no time to prepare or research her role (which was based on Freda Lawrence), were out of luck as far as getting help from Ken was concerned.
Because his visual precision demanded much of the crew, his biggest communication problem was with the crew, who came to hate him and make jokes about him behind his back. This only made him egg them on further and harder. By the end of shooting he was dressing ” la Erich von Stroheim in military jodhpurs, high leather riding boots, while thwacking a riding crop against his thigh. Several times he actually prodded crew members or extras until Martin told him this was forbidden. He was afraid of Martin. I believe it was because Martin and I went out of our way to befriend them that no one on the crew quit or they did not “work to rule.” Remember, when you are on a very tight budget, as we were, an unhappy crew can totally destroy you. A happy crew will work their asses off if they like you. We honored our crew and their industry and their artistry at every opportunity, with parties, special dinners, beer blasts, and champagne every one-hundred “takes.” They were grateful to us. We were shooting most of our film on location. Our shooting schedule was some sixteen weeks away from homes, families, even England. (Indeed, romances flourished, and a few marriages broke up.) Over thirty years later, I still get Christmas cards and recently not a few calls from old crew members worried about the state of my health.
While I did not like him, I could tell with my own eyes from what he was shooting that he was doing a good job and that he was strangely right for the film. I suspect because he was a person almost without sentiment and with little sense of humor, and he was a director obsessed with rigidly controlled images, that this balanced the Laurentian language, which was so often over-the-top. Ken’s style worked somehow as a brake on too much gush. Indeed, it allowed the script to be more faithful to what Lawrence had his characters saying.
Alan Bates had come to me the minute he heard I’d optioned the book. He wanted to play Birkin. That was fine with me. Excellent indeed. He had just starred in a major film, The Fixer, for which he had received an Oscar nomination. So I knew I had one “name” to bargain with when I went to the studios.
Getting the rest of the three leading roles cast was not so easy. United Artists suggested Oliver Reed because they were about to release an expensive film, Hannibal Brooks, about schlepping some elephants across the Alps or some such, with Oliver as star. They were banking on it turning him into a big international star. I didn’t want him. I’d never seen him good in anything, and he was completely wrong physically for what Lawrence described, a glacial, blond, cold man. I wanted Edward Fox, who would play the lead in The Day of the Jackal. But Ken had worked with Oliver on several of his TV docudramas, and Oliver was acceptable to him. From the very beginning, I wanted Glenda Jackson for Gudrun. I had seen her on the stage and could see how good she was. She was a major talent ready to explode. But UA did not want her: she had no name, and she was not attractive. And Ken did not warm to her originally. She had terrible varicose veins on her legs and needed dental work to straighten her teeth. When she agreed to attend to those, and I agreed to accept Oliver, UA relented. (And by the time Vidal Sassoon, then a young man, refashioned her hair and Shirley Russell, Ken’s phenomenally talented wife, costumed her, she was quite beautiful.)
Casting Ursula was all that remained. No name actress would take the part once Glenda was cast. They knew she would dominate the screen. We were only days away from shooting, and Nathan’s, where the costumes were made, told us if we didn’t come up with an Ursula quickly, she would have nothing to wear when we started. By chance my assistant, Tom Erhardt, had seen a screen test of an unknown actress with Peter O’Toole for a role in The Lion in Winter. She looked interesting. Her agent told us that she had retired to have a baby. We rushed to Reading, where she was nursing, and met Jennie Linden for the first time. Yes, she would be fine. Jennie had the hardest job of all: acting with all these names and so unprepared. She was not quite right for the part, and she was not what Ken wanted, which often made him rather short with her, but she held her own.
And so we approached our first day of shooting, outside of Sheffield. The night before, Oliver had arrived drunk at the hotel where we were all staying. I was lying on a sofa after dinner, with a few of our folks. He walked up to my sofa and upended it and me, so that I tumbled to the floor. Then he announced that he wanted my suite, that he did not like his suite, and that if he could not have my suite, he would leave the movie. I had to think fast on this one, my first true test of how a producer deals with a difficult star. ‘my suite is your suite,” I said, and went upstairs to start moving. Roy Baird, our associate producer, came up shortly thereafter and said that Oliver had decided to stay where he was. I guess I somehow passed his test because, contrary to what I feared would happen, he was extremely easy for me to deal with after this, whether he was drunk or sober, whether he was there with his wife or his mistress. He was rumored always to have had affairs with his leading ladies, and he’d made it known that he considered Glenda unattractive; so we were worried how they would get on. The first day they acted together, she was so dazzling that somehow he rose to the challenge of being impressed enough to respond and to do some good acting for a change himself.
Indeed, as we worked more and more on the making of the movie, everyone got caught up in the book’s greatness. We all wanted to do it justice.
Copyright ” 2002 by Larry Kramer. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.